NFL Awards Thursday Contract to CBS

NEW YORK (AP) -- CBS won bidding among broadcast networks to televise eight Thursday night NFL games next fall, and perhaps beyond that.

The NFL said Wednesday that CBS and its broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be in the booth for eight early season Thursday night games simulcast on the NFL Network.

The league's cable network will show six Thursday night games alone, produced by CBS with Nantz and Simms also in the booth. Included in the deal is two Saturday games, but it is unclear whether they will be on CBS or the NFL Network

The NFL said the contract is for one year, and the league has an option to extend it for 2015. Financial terms were not disclosed.

CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox were all interested in the NFL's Thursday night package. Football games are the most dependable ratings-grabbers in television, with viewership increasing as the audience gets smaller for traditional network fare. The Super Bowl on Sunday, with 112.2 million viewers, set a record as the most-watched program in U.S. television history.

The NFL's package of Sunday night games is a major hit for NBC.

The NFL started a limited package of Thursday games in 2006, and showed 13 games on the NFL Network this past season. One of the reasons why this is a short-term deal is for the NFL to decide whether it makes more sense to keep the Thursday games on its own network or make a broadcast package going forward.

Important for the NFL is the chance to give greater promotion to its cable network, said Brian Rolapp, the league's executive vice president for media.

"What CBS offers is a broader megaphone," Rolapp said.

CBS is already the top-rated broadcast network and its most popular comedy, The Big Bang Theory, airs on Thursday nights. The NFL package will enable CBS to start its Thursday night schedule later in the fall, around the beginning of November.

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